Student Life

What to Expect on Your First Day of College

From an in-person classroom to your first online course, learn how to make the first day of college count.

Shawna Newman

August 04, 2023

What to Expect on Your First Day of College
Be your own classroom advocate! Stay focused, take notes & ask for help.
College is not high school; it is much different. You are expected to be more independent than your high school teachers. Your parents will not be there to ensure you are up and ready to go for your 8 a.m. class. If you enter the lecture hall uninformed, you may not perform your best and could miss important opportunities and deadlines required for your class. You will be your own advocate when it comes to reaching out for assignment clarification, study strategies and academic help. Your basic courses will help you decide your major or shape your path to graduate school. Later you will move to your major-specific courses. Communication with your academic advisor and professors is recommended. Work with your instructor to find internships or student organizations that fit your major.

Make the Most of Your First Day of Classes

First impressions are valuable—make your very first day of college count! Follow these five tips to ensure you make the most of the first day of class.

Be Prompt

Arriving to class late is one of the worst first impressions you can make. Make an extreme effort to be punctual. Be sure to scout all your class locations before your first day of college. This way you will know where you are going and how to get there quickly. If mornings are hard for you, set an alarm (or a few). Give yourself plenty of time to get great for the day. Plan to be in your classroom 10 minutes before the class is scheduled. If you are planning on grabbing breakfast (this is recommended) before class, give yourself fifteen or twenty minutes extra in case other students had the same idea.
Do not worry about being too early; you would rather arrive early than late! If you are late, you will draw a lot of attention when you walk. Additionally, finding a seat could be a hassle if you arrive late. If you’re too early, you can wander around, read, or grab a coffee.

Seat Yourself

You will likely not have assigned seating in college classes. It is up to you to determine what seating arrangement will work best for you. If you drift off easily, consider setting toward the front of the class. If you doodle while taking notes, you may want to set in the back to avoid an embarrassing call-out from the professor. If you are prone to chatting, sit near someone you do not know or in your own row. While it may seem antisocial, you must pay attention during college lectures. Consider your class schedule too when you pick your seat. If your next class is 15 minutes across campus, sit near a door so you can begin your trek to your next classroom as soon as class is dismissed. As you create your schedule, try giving yourself at least 20 minutes between classes. This gives you time to stay after and ask questions before heading to your next lecture.

Be Prepared

You will have a lot of freedom when it comes to organization and taking notes in college. While your teacher likely won’t require a binder or folder you should have one with you—especially the first day. The first day of class is usually a syllabus review day. You will probably receive a syllabus with important deadlines, assignments, professor office hours and textbook requirements. Keep your syllabus in a safe place as you will likely refer to this more than once. Having a few folders or a notebook with pockets in your backpack to organize and hold papers is a necessity. Keep all handouts, too. Don’t just stuff papers into your bag – these are important documents you’ll need to keep handy—you will be referring to these all semester. Bring extra pens, pencils and highlighters for notetaking. You do not want to disrupt the class by asking for a pen. However, there will be someone who does forget their writing utensils. Bringing extras to lend out is a great way to make friends. Consider keeping all your notes in one class-specific notebook. Some college students use sites like Chegg or Evernote to organize their study notes. There are many student study apps available to help you optimize the notes you have taken.

Pay Attention

You probably will not be tested on anything you learn the first day. Most, but not all, professors use the first class to share the class expectations and to get to know their students and their interests. Certain classes have a maximum number of absent days, so you’ll want to keep track of your sick days. For days you may miss, you will need to obtain the lecture notes somehow. Therefore, it is important for you to meet other students. Gone are the days of getting your notes from teachers. Spotting a possible source for notes in the class, whether the person is a potential friend or just an acquaintance, can save you from missing out. If you are short on funds, you can often wait until the first class to see if the professor will be using every textbook on the reading list. Listen closely so you do not waste your money. Put away your phone and place it on silent. This is your time to make professional and social connections (and to learn a thing or two). Your first day is your professor’s first impression of you. Do not show up in your pajamas or fall asleep before everyone’s seated.

Show Up

Most importantly, be there. Your first day of the course is probably one of the most important days of the course, apart from exam days. Some students believe that the first day of class is not that important because you don’t actually learn anything; this is not true. You will be learning about the professor’s expectations and could miss a few important dates.

Make the Most of Online Classes

Just as you have classes in person, you may have enrolled in a few college online courses. Are online classes easier? Contrary to popular belief, not all online classes are easier than in-person classes. While you do not have to go to an actual classroom, online courses require an extra level of organization and attention to detail. There is also an approach students should take when beginning their online classes. Below are five tips you can use to prepare you for your first day of digital classes, and ways to be a successful online college student:

Become Familiar with the Learning Platform

On the first day of online college classes you may be required to review a message or video message from your professor. This message oftentimes requires you to perform several tasks. You may be asked to post an introduction message to the discussion board, like the professor’s post or to find the online course syllabus. The idea is to prepare you for online learning and to give you a sense of what online college is like. It is a way to familiarize yourself with the online learning platform you will be using for that class. Even if you are not required to perform certain tasks on the platform; explore the online classroom discussion boards, files, and resources.

Have a Dedicated Study Space

Class day is a whole new experience when you are learning online. Do not discount your online classes. Coursework for these types of classrooms must involve focus. To give these courses the attention they deserve, create a dedicated study space for online learning. This will enhance your online learning experience and provide a studious environment to help you stay attentive and alert—just as you would in a classroom full of students.

Eliminate Distractions

One online class challenge for students is staying on task. Give the time you spend learning online the same respect you would if you were in a lecture hall. Silence your phone and place it in another room. Turn off the TV, too. Set timer to build in breaks and to let you know when you have reached the end of your study time. Consider putting the time you will be studying on your calendar and letting your friends, roommates and family know you are “in class.”

Actively Participate in Class

Some online classes have a participation requirement. Use the online learning platform to interact with your instructor and classmates. Consider posting insights about a chapter you read. Sharing your lesson feedback may be beneficial for other students as well. Connect with your peers. If you feel up to it invite them to share notes or link to your notes for them to review. You may find you missed something. Ask questions about a lesson to start a discussion. Just be sure if you have questions, you post them to the correct discussion board and email them to your teacher (if that is a course requirement). Your professor will see your interactions. This shows that you are attentive and eager to learn. You never know, your participation will likely help you out. It shows that you are a good student, willing to put in the effort.

Ask for Help with Coursework

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming you cannot ask for help. Because the online learning experience lacks person-to-person interaction, some students feel like they are a burden when reaching out for help. This is not true. In fact, you should ask for help or more details on a topic in each online class. This shows the professor you are vested in the classroom experience. The professor teaching the online course is an expert; they expect there to be questions from students. You are your own advocate as a college student, this holds even more true when you are learning outside the classroom. If you do not ask for help or direction, you will be doing yourself a disservice. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Know the instructor's preferred method of asking for help. Simply posting to a discussion board is likely not the best method. Consider emailing the online instructor with your questions. Whether your college classes are in-person, online or a combination of both, vital information will come your way on the first day—use this to your advantage to map out a semester game plan for your college courses. Use the first day to get a good scope of the professor and to understand what the course load may be. Often, the professor will share information about the exam formats, quizzes, and other class policies. This is all the important information you do not want to miss: make your first day of class count!

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